Click Here!

Whale Video Clip
A Whale Cookbook?
Team Profiles
Making of This Site
How Can I Help?
Supporting Materials

IF Home Page
Newsletter Signup



What is a whale?

A whale is a mammal, not a fish. They are really really big, they are like the elephants of the sea. They look like this guy over here to the left.

Are whales fish?

No. Whales are mammals, just like you are. That means whale babies are born from their mothers, and drink the milk their mothers produce for them. There are also some differences you can see.

Whales have to breathe air, unlike fish, which get air from the water using their gills. So whales come up to the surface to take big breaths through their blow holes. When they breathe out, it often sprays a lot of water. This is called spouting. A whale's tail (called flukes) sticks out to the left and right, where a fish's tail goes up and down. And whales have tough, leathery skin instead of the scales that most fishes have.

whale vs. fish

person, school bus?, whale

How big is a whale?

Whales come in many sizes. The smallest are about the same size as people, and the biggest (the blue whale) is the biggest thing that has ever lived--bigger than the biggest dinosaur! The humpback whales that live in Tonga are pretty big whales. When they are born, they are already bigger than a car, and when they're grown up, they can be 50 or 60 feet long, and weigh up to 50 tons.

What are baby whales like?

Because whales are mammals, whale babies (or calves) are a lot like human babies, except they live in the water. They stay with their mothers all the time for the first few years, and their mothers help them swim, breathe, and eat. Baby whales drink the rich, fatty milk their mothers produce until they are strong enough to swim to cold waters where they will eat like big whales.

nursing mother

How do whales eat?

Different kinds of whales eat different foods. You might be surprised to know that some of the biggest whales eat the smallest food! Some of the huge whales, like blue whales and humpback whales don't have any teeth. Their mouths are full of long strands of "comb-like" filters called baleen. They gulp lots of tiny shrimp and fishes, and filter them with their baleen. Baleen is made of keratin, the same stuff as your hair or fingernails.

Other whales (such as orcas and sperm whales) have teeth, so they can bite and eat larger food, like fish and squid.

Do whales really sing?

Humpback whales are famous singers! Only the males sing. They may be singing to attract female whales, or to talk to other whales. They may sing short songs for a few minutes or long songs for hours. Like us, humpbacks like to sing songs with rhymes.

Click one of the whales on the right to play some whale songs.

Click a whale to play whale songs
Play song 1
Play song 2